Connecting With Others

I have been writing this blog and sending my thoughts out into the possible void of cyberspace, never really knowing whether or not I was reaching anyone other than my family and friends; people who occasionally read this blog more out of an act of kindness to me than out of any curiosity or compelling interest in what I have to write – mercy subscribers!

Then it happened!  The other day, I received my first comment from a total stranger – or at least someone who I believe is a total stranger – for they signed in as “Me”, with an email address I did not recognize.  Indeed, I found their comment in the spam filter.

It is hard to describe my feelings at receiving that comment.  I was so thrilled that my words, sent out into the void, somehow or other found their way to the attention of another human being; someone removed from my circle of intimates.  Through the miracle of the internet, I connected with some total stranger, and neither of us were trying to sell or scam the other.  We were just interested in entering into dialogue.  I do not know whether or not it will ever happen again, but the very fact that it happened even this once makes all the effort worthwhile.

This experience lead me to reflect upon why I do this and why this person happened to stumble upon my text.  The answer, of course, can be folded into one word – COMMUNICATION.  We all hunger for communication.  We want to be in touch with others.  The more we widen our circle of communication, the more we come to recognize how connected we are, and more importantly, can be, with our fellow human beings.  It is in such connectedness that our lives become all the more meaningful.  For as we touch others, and let others touch us, our world both grows and shrinks simultaneously.  It grows in terms of the number of people who help define our lives and it shrinks in terms of the distances which separate us from others.  Our world becomes more intimate, the more we connect with others.

For the longest time, I have held  to what most people would consider to be an unattainable ideal.  It is the ideal of the coming of a day when every person on the face of this planet comes to feel and experience in a very real way a true sense of connection with every other person.  I know how absurd and childlike that sounds.  I would almost be embarrassed to admit it except for one truth that I have discovered in my life.  That truth is that, with very, very few exceptions, all the people I have encountered are fundamentally good at heart.  I may not always agree with them.  Indeed, we may disagree with great energy.  But if we separate the people from the issues, we find that they possess the same needs as do we.  They want to be happy, secure, appreciated, respected, and loved.  The same things with make us smile, make them smile; which make us frown or cry, make them frown or cry.  We are just like them and they are just like us.  The only thing that is missing is that we have never gotten the chance to know each other.  We remain strangers, and as such, alienated one from the other.

No place have I witnessed the truth of all this more than in that most contested of lands, Israel.  To read the newspapers and to listen to so many of the commentators, one can easily be led to believe that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is irresolvable; that they are blood enemies, neither of which could ever be satisfied with anything less than the total destruction of the other.  Yet, as I have visited that land, time and again, I have found that some of my most pleasant experiences have been my interactions with Palestinians.  I have found them to be just as humanly driven as am I.  They could just as easily be my friends as my enemies.  True story.  Several years ago, I was with a tour group in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The tour guide warned the members of the group to make sure to protect their purses and their backpacks for, if given the slightest chance, the Palestinians would rob them blind.  I was walking next to the 20-something son of a friend.  He immediately flinched and went to check his backpack.  I told him, “Don’t pay too much attention to what that guide said.  I have met far more nice Palestinians in this section of Jerusalem than bad ones.”  He did not seemed convinced.  A little ways down the road, he felt a tap on his shoulder.  As he turned around, he found himself confronted by a Palestinian teenager.  The young boy said to him:  “Excuse me, mister, but your backpack is open.”  I could not pass up that “I-told-you-so” moment.

People are people.  We are yearn for approval and for relationships.  Having positive connections with others fulfills our lives.  It invests our lives with greater meaning and purpose.  What we all too easily forget is that in those desires we are far from alone.  Every person, regardless of race, nationality, creed, gender, gender orientation, and political ideology, shares those desires and needs in common.  We all want it.  We are all open to it.  We all appreciate it immensely when we find it.  The trick is letting ourselves be open enough to give others a chance to connect with us.

This can be one of the great benefits of the internet, for it allows us to reach out to total strangers and transform those strangers into friends, even when we do not know where they live and what they look like and a laundry list of other characteristics.  For those characteristics turn out NOT to be defining ones.  What is most defining about us is that we are human beings who wish to share some portion of our lives with others; who wish to connect.

In Hebrew we have a saying – “Ken y’hi ratson! – May this be God’s will!”

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4 Comments on “Connecting With Others”

  1. Anne-Marie Hislop Says:

    So true, Henry. When I tell of my seminary internship in Egypt, I always tell people that folks are just folks – that they want a job, a decent place to live, a good education for their kids (and a safe place to play), a little extra money so that they can get away occasionally (even if that only means going back to the village to visit family), decent medical care, and the right to speak their mind (and worship as/if they choose).

    Terrorists function by keeping the ‘other’ as non-human (to some extent traditional armies do the same), not letting themselves/their recruits get to know how similar (how human) the ‘enemy’ really is.

    • ravkarp Says:

      You are absolutely right. Terrorists and those with evil plans must first dehumanize their targets. If they can strip their people of the ability to see the “enemy” as human beings, with the same needs and drives as they have, then they can move their people to do incredible harm to these “subhumans”. That is precisely what the Nazis did with the Jews. They redefined them as subhuman – as parasites on society – and that literally opened the doors to the gas chambers of camps like Auschwitz.

      Likewise, you are right in that the same phenomenon takes place in the military in times of war. A combat soldier would be useless if they perceived on the person on the receiving end of their bullets as someone who loves and is beloved by others.

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